TALKING POINT BY
30, May 2003
New Canadians - Looking for a Job
doctor is a refugee from war-torn Somalia who’d
landed the day before (1992), taking a walk in
Toronto, a city of about five million souls. A sign
in the window of a very expensive shop says: “We
are proud to be an equal opportunity employers.”
many parts of the world, we are shunned because we
are Somalis, people from a country where the bodies
of human beings (American helicopter pilots in this
case) are dragged in the smoking ruins of Mogadishu
(Black Hawk Down). We must be barbarians who still
live in the Stone Age, they would say behind our
the signs in shop windows and newspaper job
advertisements reassured the doctor that would not
happen in Canada, the land of equal opportunity
employers, the land of immigrants and refugees.
There are even a number of war criminals from the
Balkans and other eastern European countries, who
found an Eldorado in Canada. But these are not
visible minorities and easily blended with the
mainstream Canadians and Americans with forged
our Somali doctor had to do was find a job in the
new comer knows what that’s like. You name the
city and the ritual of employment is the same. At
least, it was the same in peacetime Somalia.
One, you hear about a job in one of the government
ministries in Mogadishu, and you do a little
researching around. You find out anything about the
Minister or the Director General, especially if they
have relatives and who they are. You find anybody in
your family who knows the guy behind the huge
desk—or even better, who did him some favor in the
Two can be expensive. If the Minister’s wife
collects gold jewelry, your wife finds rare examples
of the stuff and pays visit to His Excellency’s
spouse at her posh villa. If a diploma is needed you
buy it. You hire actors, popularly known as Afminshar
to be your references. And presto you got the
job before you know it!
Three is the interview. And let’s get it clear;
you must speak the Minister’s or the Director
General’s dialect to prove that you are a homeboy.
And you must never look like somebody who needs the
job. It’s like with the women; when you let them
see you need them, you’re finished. You’re a
that was in Mogadishu and this is Toronto. A few
months pass. The Somali doctor writes and rewrites
his resumes. The mere quantity of envelopes he buys
makes him a respected citizen in the neighborhood,
but not in the job market.
doctor was a successful and highly respected surgeon
in Somalia until the devils took over his country
and his Digfer General Hospital in 1991. One
day a former colleague told him that Canada is the
place to be. Shouldn’t be tough to find a job, the
former colleague told him over spiced Somali tea at
Nairobi’s Eastleigh, dubbed as Little Somalia.
he was without “Canadian experience.” He wanted
to have it, but potential employers would not give
him the chance to prove himself. Even at a time when
there was a cry for more doctors in Canada and the
US. However, one good news is that his wife gets a
job as office cleaner by night and babysitter by
day. But for him, so far, there is no chance. And no
chance, either to apply the Mogadishu experience in
Toronto. Do research on the Boss? Find a family
member he owed a favor? Not a chance.
bad, Afminshars and gold obsessed wives are
rare around here. You can’t even buy a forged
diploma in this spin city.
right jobs exist. At least, he found the right ads
in the bulky newspapers (more than 300 pages!). But
they demand “Canadian experience” and people
with citizenship documents—and he is just an
undocumented Landed Refugee from war-torn Somalia.
He left his burning home in a dash, leaving
everything behind, including his documents and cash,
in the smoldering wreckage. Document issuing
authorities in the country ceased to exist in 1990
and all you can manage to get is a forged Somali
passport at Garissa Lodge in Nairobi of all places.
You had no choice; you must possess it, because you
want to get the hell out of the African quagmire.
he tries. His faxes slide toward their destination
numbers faster than the SARS deadly virus slides
downward on the population without discrimination.
At least that’s the only equal opportunity in
happens and so he continues to drive his taxi, or
watch the Hollywood movie “Taxi Driver” in his
spare times. Except once, when he gets a call
immediately after he sent the fax. But the guy is
just mad because he sent him eight full pages and so
his fax paper is used up and he is expecting an
opportunity?” he told me in a fit of irritation.
“Whom do they think they are kidding?” he added
and drove his taxi like he was in the Grand Prix.
happening out there, in the minds of job
advertisers? Examples of bigotry in North America
against newcomers and what is termed as “visible
minorities” are endless. And as sure as the sun
rises each day a newcomer should expect a stream of
prepared rejection slips from job advertisers and
eviction notices from landlords. The same goes to
book publishers and newspaper editors. One aspiring
African author decorates his bedroom walls with
rejection slips from big-name publishers.
But that’s another story at another time.
M. M. Afrah ©2003